Mr. and Mrs. Doctor

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Julie Iromuanya, born in the USA of Nigerian parents, calls her first novel, MR. AND MRS. DOCTOR, a “Midwestern Gothic,” but I think a better description of it would be “a bold journey into the dark side of the American Dream.”
Taking the journey is Job Ogbonnaya, the second son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman who dispatched him to study medicine at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Job unfortunately flunked out of his undergraduate program but, out of weakness and shame, kept the truth from his father, even as he continued to take money from him. The lie that is his American life is compounded when he marries Cheryl, a scatty, drugged-out hippie, just to gain his citizenship. Job keeps up the pretense of being a doctor–he carries a stethoscope wherever he goes–but the only job he can get is a nurse’s aid in a hospice.

Job even fools his second wife, Nigerian-born Ifi, into believing that he’s an upwardly mobile G.P., saving money so that he’ll be able to open his own clinic back in Nigeria one day, where they’ll both live like royalty. Ifi, who works as a motel maid, eventually sees through his con and turns on him, with a terrifying ferocity and rage. As if that’s not punishment enough, Job must then suffer the sudden, tragic death of their young son.
Just about everything that can possibly go wrong in the USA for Job and Ifi does just that. With the shattering of their hopes and dreams, Ifi desperately falls back on African tribal superstitions for some kind of salvation, but in the end both she and Job realize that, if they are ever going to find peace, it will be in America, not Africa.

MR. AND MRS. DOCTOR tells a tough, complex story, but it is shot through with wit and humor, making for a surprisingly bracing read.
(Coffee House Press, trade ppbk., $16.95)